John Redhead, director at Educater, discusses how schools in England can meet their statutory obligations for SEND provision following some of the biggest changes in 30 yearsThe move from statements to Education Health and Care (EHC) plans, changes in statutory requirements for schools and many alterations within local authorities, mean that it can be challenging for schools to meet new policy directives and continue to improve practice.
These reforms prompted a change in the way support is provided for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) up to the age of 25. The new approach allows for a more person-centred approach. Focus is now placed on a child’s progress compared to desired outcomes, rather than the amount of provision a child receives.
In a letter to local authorities in 2014, Edward Timpson, Minister for Children and Families, stated that, ‘From 1 September 2014, local authorities will be required to consult with families and providers of services and publish a local offer of provision for children and young people who are disabled or have SEN, so that parents, carers and young people understand the range of provision available.’
Amongst the many changes in the reforms, the move from statements to EHC plans and the 0-25 age focus were two very significant issues that required a shift, not just in practice, but also in thinking. ‘Partners, including health centres, colleges, schools and early year’s practitioners, need to co-produce the local offer,’ the Minister stressed.
But what is in a good local offer?
The local offer provides information for young people, parents and schools on the support services available in their area, all in one place. The Department for Education’s (DfE) factsheet on the SEND reforms explains that the local offer ‘is a statutory requirement for local authorities to develop and publish information setting out the support they expect to be available for children and young people with SEND.’
Every local authority is responsible for making sure the local offer is clear and provides both families and young people with up-to-date information, available for them to access at any time. The DfE highlighted the need for a collaborative approach to services and provision, therefore local authorities are required to work alongside children, young people and carers to make sure the support and services available are inclusive and respond to a real need.
Navigating the changes
The move from statements to EHC plans is similarly challenging for schools. In addition to the statutory requirements that the Act lays out, it also outlines the principles that should underpin the duties that local authorities carry out.
In order to address this difficulty, the Council for Disabled Children produced a checklist for schools that considers the surface features of a plan that may indicate whether the principles outlined in the Children and Families Act 2014 have been followed.
As part of the EHC plans, schools need to make sure each plan addresses the needs and agreed outcomes for every individual with SEND. To ensure that these outcomes are achieved, schools can look into arranging additional training for teaching and support staff.
There are several different tools and resources available for meeting the needs of children with SEND, which are often developed by teaching professionals and voluntary organisations. In addition to online advice and guidance, SEND-specialist companies can also help schools ease the administrative burdens connected with the reforms, including the transfer from statements to EHC plans. Putting such a system in place will help schools automatically transfer individuals’ information and store it in an accessible format for staff to manage at any stage.
Information within the EHC plans includes a closer understanding of the views, wishes and feelings of the children and their parents. Therefore, it is these aspects of the reforms that mean schools will need to consider how they communicate and engage with parents.
Having one central management system that holds all the relevant information will help staff to effectively manage relationships both internally and externally, being able to monitor student progress regularly and making adjustments while keeping parents informed every step of the way. After all, it is widely stated in research that the effective engagement of parents positively impacts on children’s learning.
It was on this basis that Educater was developed, through a process of working with schools to identify their needs and with SEN specialists to create a robust system.
Selecting the right management system
Educater is a person-centred communication system, designed to meet the needs of the education sector. By dramatically reducing the administration burden within several key areas, including school tracking and assessment, journal and SEND paperwork, it helps to free up more time for teachers to focus on teaching.
The recent SEND reforms undoubtedly carry an administrative burden but we’ve worked with schools to identify time-sinks and then create a system that breaks everything into simple, manageable chunks.
In light of the changing demands of the sector, schools need to have a communication system in place that is flexible enough to adapt to these changes. There are also a few other factors that are essential to consider, to ensure schools get as much as possible out of their investment.
It’s important to implement a system that has integration with all of the main management information systems such as Capita’s SIMS, RM’s Integris and Advanced Learning’s Facility so that your school has the ability to process information and documents through a web browser – meaning that you can manage your document workflow from anywhere, at any time, without the need to purchase additional infrastructure.
As well as helping teachers save time, there should be benefits for the pupils too. Being able to capture the words of pupils using Educater’s Pupil Passport and One Page Profile elements allows teachers to take into account the young person’s wishes and feelings when forming their individual plans or EHCPs. In addition, the innovative way of recording formative assessment directly into the tracker module provides a very powerful tool that helps schools to facilitate individualised learning.
Professional development support
The increasingly complex learning needs of pupils and students with SEN, means that class and subject teachers are responsible for making sure that students are developing to the best of their abilities. In order to ensure this happens, teachers can look for continued professional development (CPD), which as nasen’s former chief executive Jane Friswell comments,
Some of this may be formal, such as training sessions, conferences and workshops, but many good sources of CPD are informal.
The power of informal CPD was cited by University College London’s EPPI-Centre, a research centre covering education, health and social care, which found that, ‘Sustained and collaborative CPD was linked with a positive impact upon teachers’ repertoire of teaching and learning strategies, their ability to match these to their students’ needs, their self-esteem and confidence, and their commitment to continuing learning and development. There is also evidence that such CPD was linked with a positive impact upon student learning processes, motivation and outcomes.’ By staff working as a team to develop their own learning strategies together, the children and young people they work with will see the results.
Case study: Camberwell Park
For schools whose pupils’ needs are complex and demanding, external agencies are an invaluable support. Camberwell Park is a special school rated as outstanding and one of ten schools cited for exemplary practice by nasen in 2014. Camberwell Park’s aim is to work together with all teachers, non-teaching staff, parents and carers to achieve the best for each pupil.
This includes the school nurse, as teacher Amy Blinkhorn explains:
The school nurse is in and out all the time, she sorts out things like medications. If there’s a problem we can always get hold of her and get her help with any specific medical issues. The nurses also give us advice on how to feed students who require assistance with eating. One nurse this year taught me how to tube feed.
The school has very clear procedures for bringing professionals together to establish how best to work for the benefit of the children.
We have regular multi-agency meetings across the year where education, health and social care professionals get together,
says Allison Taylor, assistant headteacher at the school.
The meetings are very important. They help us get a holistic view of each individual child, and we can also share our view of what we know about them.
For the agencies available to offer support, local authorities should be the first port of call but collaborative links should not be underestimated. If there is a special school in the same locality, advice and guidance can be sought and the links can help in improving practice and upskilling staff.
If you would like to know more then Educater, which has been shortlisted for the BETT Awards 2016 (ICT Special Educational Needs Solutions), will be exhibiting at BETT 2016, London, UK (20-23 Jan 2016) on Stand F75.